Chemo Round 10

People thank me for being so open about the journeys in my life: miscarriage, depression, anxiety, faith struggles, and now cancer treatment. I know sharing is not for everyone, but for me it’s a coping mechanism.

Last week I came here and dumped out some of my depression. I put it out there in this space because it was like a garbage pile in my head. I wasn’t looking for sympathy or anything of the sort. I just needed to honestly throw some of that garbage out into the universe to get it out of my head.

And what happens when I do that is magic.

People pick up the garbage and turn it into something beautiful.

Some are tangible like cards and notes and messages. Others are no less real, but cannot be held in my hands like prayers. Some of you take that trash, that burden, and put it in your own backpack for awhile to lighten my load.

And it comes back to me as light.

The light of positive messages, of prayers and thoughts felt, of a student telling me I am gorgeous, of my daughter telling me I am the prettiest mommy. Of a student sliding this on my desk after he heard me admit that being bald is not the best for my self-esteem.

Chemo round 10 was like all the others except that my friend, G, came to visit and she was someone I needed to come visit me. I didn’t even know it until her beautiful smile was there, but I needed her. She is my sister friend and her presence next to my chemo chair made me so very happy.

And you can see my mom came. I love being able to spend so much time with my mom. Retirement for her, chemo for me means we get to have a couple hours of chat time in the middle of the week.

Love and light come each week.

Even when I feel gross and sad and overwhelmed. Somehow, sharing it–putting it out there–means it will come back to me as hope.

And I am thankful for that this week.

Round 10/16 DONE!

Chemo Round 9

Passed the halfway mark and took Round 9 of chemotherapy this past week.

It went fine. Not much to report. Doc said my blood counts look good. I have a weird rash she was concerned might be shingles, so she gave me a prescription for that. Then I was plugged in and got my poison and went on home. My mom visited with Cortney and I while I sat there again this week which was nice.

I’m also three weeks into the school year at this point. My PhD class started this week. The boys started school this week, and today Charlie had his first soccer game.

I am not doing well.

I was. I was fine. Well, I am fine. Physically fine.

But I am emotional and tired and not sure how to ask for help because I am not sure what to ask for.

The hair on my head that didn’t fall out (there is some up there) is growing, but it looks fuzzy and weird. My eyebrows have almost completely fallen out. I’m never fully comfortable about how I look, despite the kind words that continue to show up (although finding out from a parent at my school that two of my 8th grade girls think I look beautiful was definitely a pick-me-up!)

Did I mention I am tired?

Tired is hard for me. It makes me crabby and inpatient and, well…I guess most people get that way too.

I don’t know how to rest more. If I go to bed early or nap during the weekend, I’m not getting something done. But guess what? I’m usually too tired to get stuff done anyway, so I just lie there in the evenings watching TV. And if I do get a nap, my mind will work overtime at night and I won’t sleep then. It’s a pretty un-fun spiral.

Even reading isn’t fun to me right now.

I think that means I have a bit of the depression going on. I went from a TON of anxiety and being overwhelmed, to feeling like I could handle everything (maybe even well), to feeling tired and like it’s all too much.

And that makes me sad.

People keep asking me how I’m feeling, and I’ve started answering, “fine!” because I don’t know how to put into words what I’m feeling without it being a big therapy session that nobody asked for.

So. I am fine.

But also not.

But I don’t know what you can do about that because I have a great support system, words of encouragement constantly coming in, and random pies showing up (thanks, Gram!). It feels like something is wrong with me that despite all that, I still feel….off. I still want to cry and sleep.

So that is where I am right now.

Round 9/16 Done.

No More Crib

In March of 2009, Cortney assembled the crib that would hold all three of our babies over nine and a half years. This weekend, he partially disassembled it to convert it into a Big Girl Bed for Alice.

Eddie’s nursery

In the beginning it was so new. So full of possibility. So matching.

Charlie’s nursery

Second child meant that we had learned a few things, got rid of a lot of useless things, and added the chew protector because standing babies chew wood.

Look at that face! So proud!

And now, for the first time in almost a decade, it is no longer a crib.

Alice had been asking for a while now if she could have a Big Girl bed. Both boys were two-and-a-half when they moved to their Big Boy beds due to another baby being on the way needing the crib/nursery.

No more babies are on the way, and as long as she didn’t complain, we were unconcerned that our almost-three-and-a-half-year old was still in a crib. She didn’t climb out, and didn’t make a fuss. Until late this summer.

We bought this particular crib because it can convert to a toddler day bed and eventually a full-sized bed (of course we bought it from Babies R Us and now I can’t find the conversion kit for a Pinehurst crib anywhere. I may have to enlist my dad to help). So the “front” that Cortney took off is technically the foot-board of what may eventually be her bed.

I was about to explode into tears when we called her into the room to see it. The crib that held all of my babies that was now a Big Girl bed because there will be no more babies. But before the lump in my throat could actualize, she saw it, burst into squeals of delight, started hugging both Cortney and me, and proclaiming, “I LOVE IT! THANK YOU!” over and over.

The lump vanished and I burst into laughter.

She was just SO THRILLED.

And unlike her brothers, she has not wandered out of bed at night or at nap at all. That is how much she loves it.

Plus she is a rule follower. I don’t think it occurs to her to get up and protest bedtime.

But also because she loves it.

Notice her Babycita’s crib is right next to hers so she can check on her.

She even plays in her room more. She will just go in there and play babies and sit in her bed. And in the morning, she wanders out and will say, “I get up by myself,” to Cortney.

It’s the sweetest thing in the entire world.

The girl is like her mom and loves sleep, but if it’s possible she loves it even more now.

Tonight, when I put her to bed, she said, “Daddy comes down here by my pillow,” and indicated that I can sit next to her bed and put my head next to hers on her pillow. So I did.

“Now sing Row Row Boat,” she insisted.

So I did.

She is still my littlest, but the parts about her that are baby are fading quickly. This week she will be three-and-a-half years old, and she is adamant that she is a Big Girl.

She still sleeps like the Baby Alice I remember, though: with her pink blankie tucked under her arm and her boppy (pacifier) in her mouth. I know I should push to get rid of that too, but I can’t take all the baby away at once.

Diapers, on the other hand, I would LOVE to see go.

Chemo Round 8

Yesterday was Round 8…HALFWAY!

Because I am surrounded by the BEST people in the world, my friend Nurse Ashley brought me (and Cort and my mom) donuts. Cortney bought me my weekly frappicino and I told everyone who was within earshot that I was HALF done!

It went well again. As I said, my mom was there again this week. Cortney had to leave because Eddie had his yearly well-child appointment, so my mom made sure I had company and a ride home.

I felt very good leaving my students with their weekly substitute. They know her from last year and she was there with them on their first day. I was right, everything went very well. Many students asked, “how did it go yesterday, Mrs. Sluiter?” which warmed my heart that they thought to ask.

They boys had Open House last night at school, so Cortney took them so I could lay low with Alice. Both boys are excited about their teachers and getting back to school next week.

And, just because he couldn’t let summer slide away without meeting a major milestone, Charlie decided yesterday was the day the training wheels would come off and he would join his big brother as a two-wheel rider.

I now have two weeks of school done even before my own kids have started school! But summer is slipping between our fingers! This weekend is it! Then we will be fully on our fall schedule.

Prayer requests this week are for continued energy and “pep” as my PhD class starts. Peace and courage for the kids as they start a new school year with new teachers and new challenges and adventures. And of course strength for Cortney as he navigates caring for me with the balance of his own fall schedule and running the kids around.

Round 8 DONE!

Chemo Round 7, Pearl Jam, and Back to School

One of the first things I asked when I found out I had to go through chemotherapy was, “Will I still be able to go to the Pearl Jam show in August?” The answer was a definite YES, and I had been looking forward to it as a sort of a goal all summer.

They played Wrigley (for those who have been reading this blog for awhile, you know this is the third time we have traveled to Wrigley. The first time we had a rather harrowing experience. The second time was more low key. By now we feel like we have the routine down pretty well).

I suppose I could devote an entire blog post to this concert, but really the main story is that the guy sitting next to me–Will who wore a green shirt and green glasses frames to match–was at his first PJ concert ever and he smoked and drank a ton and had no sense of personal space. Other than that it was GREAT!

We got back on Sunday afternoon and I had to immediately get my brain into back to school mode because Monday and Tuesday my district’s staff was back! Tuesday I had the opportunity to present a Professional Development session with one of my first mentors. It was pretty great.

Wednesday was the first day of students, but also chemo day for me. Since I couldn’t be there, I made my students a welcome video and had them write a letter of introduction to me.

I sad in my chemo chair while they did all that and got Round 7. My mom came to visit during this one and I found that if I have someone to chat with, I won’t fall asleep. Everything went very well, and when I got home I took a fat, two-hour nap. I went to bed on time that night too, trying to prepare for Thursday and Friday–my first days with students.

I’ll be honest: this week kicked my butt.

Yesterday (Friday): I came home around 4:15 and fell asleep on the couch with everything hurting from my piggy toes up to my fuzzy little head hairs.  Part of it is totally normal first week of school exhaustion that all teachers get (blown out voice, anyone?), but some of it I know is because my body is not operating at 100%. It’s not used to be so physically active for such long periods of time. It’s not used to not being able to take a break and rest.

This week was wonderful, but hard.

I’m glad to be back at doing what I love, but I have found I have a lot of anxiety surrounding my limitations–and even knowing what my limitations are until I am faced with them.

I’m struggling with not over-doing it. I’m struggling to know before I over-do it that it will happen, if that makes sense.

This coming week will be the halfway point of my chemo treatments. It will also be the week my class at WMU starts and the week before my kids start school. Charlie has started soccer. Eddie will start up with scouts again soon. Cortney has a lot going on with work and consistory for church, plus bowling starts this week.

I know routine and patterns will help, but prayers while we adjust to all this are greatly appreciated!

7/16 Done

Chemo Round 6

This week was round 6 of chemo, round 2 of the new drug. As you can see, my attitude has improved. Also my regular nurse, Aimee, was back after a couple weeks away for various reasons and I was super happy to harass chat with her again.

The entire thing went a little quicker this time since I tolerated it so well last time. I only had half the Bendaryl (It still made me sleepy enough that I napped through most of my infusion), and the chemo could drip a little quicker–one hour. So I was in and out in under 3 hours this time.

And just like last time, I napped in the afternoon at home, and was ready to rock today!

The boys had their last day of swim lessons for this year this morning, and then I took Eddie to school with me to get some things done in my classroom (the little two went to daycare).

It was pretty fun to spend time with him. He’s at an age where he is so helpful and fun to hang out with. Although he talked NON-STOP while he worked, so I had to busy myself with things that weren’t thinking-intensive so I could listen and chat back with him. The teachers who were around all commented, “well, he’s basically you, isn’t he?” Yes, yes he is. And I love it.

I am back to work on Monday, so it was important I get some stuff done today, and he helped with that. I have teacher time to work some more Monday and then meetings all day Tuesday. Wednesday I will be out for chemo, but kids will be walking through that door!

It’s hard to believe summer is pretty much over for me. I feel like I really only got two weeks, but I am grateful to have gone through the really hard, comatose days during the summer and not during the school year.

I’m grateful to my co-workers who have helped me move desks and work around some scheduling things for my students while I’m out to give them some routine. I appreciate how supportive the administration has been to find someone who can be a regular presence for my students and for me.

I’m excited to start the school year, but get some anxiety looking at the calendar since I know I have to work in time to do my PhD class and help bring kids to sports practice and scouts. Plus we want family time and fun time too.

I know some of you like specific things to pray for, so here you go: my anxiety, my body continuing to do well with this drug, and the kids as they transition to back to school in the coming weeks (we find out teachers tomorrow! Woot!)–especially Charlie who has some anxiety with change.

6/16 Done

Chemo Round 5

Holy moly what a difference a new chemo drug makes!

This round was the first of the “second leg” of my cancer treatment tour, if you remember. The first “leg” was an A/C drug (don’t ask me to spell them right now). There were four dense dose treatments (in other words: super potent, crippling doses). The reason for this new drug (and up to 12 rounds of it) is because while the A/C treatment is super powerful, we want to make sure all the cancer cells get blasted.

You can think of cancer treatment as a sort of war on cancer. Each treatment type is a different branch of my cancer-fighting military. Surgery was the first surge. It wiped out what we hope to be all of the enemy. We wanted to be sure, so we sent in the second branch: A/C treatment. While chances are, those drugs got anything remaining, research shows that coupled with my new drug, Taxol, the eradication of cancer cells is even more successful. So Taxol is the newest branch of the cancer-fighting military we are sending in. The last will be radiation.

I got my back to school hair cut the day before treatment (it’s not actually growing, but it was looking patchy. It’s even shorter now)

The difference in side effects is almost inexplicable. A/C treatment made me feel like I was dying about 24 hours after treatment. It felt like I would never feel better again.

Before infusing the Taxol, they loaded me up with antihistamine and Benadryl (because pretty much everyone is allergic to Taxol–it’s an irritant. I got quite loopy from that, naturally. Then they pumped in the drugs. I had zero reactions, so I may be able to go lighter on the Benadryl next time.

The side effects are still hair loss (see that picture above), and sometimes nausea (I didn’t have any), low blood counts (because it’s attacking fast-growing blood cells), and mouth sores (none of those yet either). It can also affect my nails and give me joint and muscle pain. The only irreversible side effect is peripheral neuropathy, which means loss of feeling in my fingers and toes. That one they monitor super closely because they can adjust the med or skip one altogether to reduce that happening if I start to notice tingling. That is really my biggest fear.

Anyway, I got home Wednesday and took a nap while the rest of my crew headed up north to spend a long weekend with my parents at a cottage they rent with us each year. When I woke up, I felt great! So different then A/C treatment! I was refreshed and actually worked on school stuff Wednesday evening!

Thursday I woke up and packed myself up and headed to the cottage!

Grandpa and Grandma play some cards with the boys.

Saturday I even went to the beach! This is the first (and probably only) time I have been able to sit on the beach all summer due to my treatment. Chemo makes my skin SUPER sensitive to the sun. Cortney bought two SPF 50 beach umbrellas, I had my SPF 50 hat, plus I slathered in SPF 50 (twice because I reapplied) for the two hours we were at the beach, and I still walked away with a little coloring.

But it was worth it!

The kids could have stayed here all day! (Also isn’t my mom the cutest?)

She would not go near the water without her daddy.

She has mastered the art of relaxing on the beach…just like her mom!

See? Proof I made it to the beach this year!

Even though we couldn’t hit the beach for the entire time we were there, the cottage happens to be on a small, inland lake and the boys had almost as much fun swimming at the end of the dock.

Charlie and his popsicle “floaty” tricks

Eddie and his clowning!

I would say I spent most of the time in the shade near the cottage with my book or watching everyone play, but it made me feel like a real person doing real summer things to be able to even go. With the A/C treatment this weekend would have been impossible right after a round of chemo. I would have been comatose all weekend.

Yes, I still got tired quickly and sat down a lot, but I was there to watch my goofy kids have all the fun and live their best lives.

I don’t even know. These two were nut jobs the entire weekend.

And of course, to round out the weekend, my dad took us all out for huge ice cream cones for lunch on Saturday. Because is it really vacation if you don’t have ice cream for at least one meal?

I am so so so SO thankful for this new drug. I hate that I have to go through any of it, but since I do, feeling more like myself is the way to go.

I will be getting Taxol infusions weekly on Wednesdays until October 24 (we are hoping to get in 12 rounds total).  Please pray that my body keeps handling the meds well (my doctor told me that after all the A/C treatments, my blood counts were so good, you couldn’t even tell I had been on chemo! Keep doing that, body!)

This is my final week of summer before I go back to school (Eddie and Charlie still have three more weeks until their district goes back), so please pray for my anxiety and for my students as they get ready to have an English teacher who is out ever Wednesday and dealing with, well, cancer treatments.

5/16 done

Chemo Round 4

I’ve been calling chemo a roller coaster, but that is not accurate.

Roller coasters are all fun the whole time. Ups, downs, twists = all fun.

Chemo is zero fun the whole time. Zero.

And after my last round, I really thought I couldn’t make it through anymore. I fell into such a dark pit of depression that I thought chemotherapy might kill me.

I just pulled through Round 4, though. The last of the Dose Dense treatments…or as they call it at the infusion center: The Red Devil. If my treatment was a World Tour (because concerts are infinitely more fun and better than stupid cancer treatment), I would be able to say the first leg of the tour is over.

My sister-in-law, MacKenzie drove me to treatment this time since Cortney needed to take Eddie to a critter camp at the Outdoor Discovery Center. I was so glad to spend time with her. I was afraid taking me would be hard on her, or bring up really sad feelings from when she brought her dad. But she told me that she has fond memories of spending that time with him, so it felt good to have her there. Plus we are both so busy all the time, we don’t get to hang out as much as we would like, so it was quality time laughing and just being together.

I told anyone who would listen that it was my last dose dense. I actually cheered when my nurse pushed the last of the stupid red drug into my IV. I knew the worst was still coming, but it was in and done.

Thursday after the boys left for their sleep over fun, I crashed. I could feel the fog coming over my brain and I knew if I feel asleep, that would be it. And it was. That evening I said to Cortney, “I’m going to start my 36-hour sleep now.” And that is what I did.

I don’t know how to describe how awful needing to sleep can be. The need to sleep is so powerful, food doesn’t sound good, drinking doesn’t sound good, nothing is more needed than sleep. That means as I sleep, I also grow super weak and yuck-o feeling. I got out of bed at 10am on Friday, moved to the couch, and slept there straight until 8pm when I took a shower, put on clean jammies, and went to bed for the night.

I didn’t check my phone.

I didn’t turn on the TV.

I ate one bite of food, and a few sips of water to take my meds.

That was it.

Saturday I was tired, but was sick of sleeping, but couldn’t stop napping. Saturday is the day I have to start fighting my urge to not eat or drink. Saturday is usually a battle, and it makes me weepy and feel like there is no end to the awful.

Sunday I woke up hungry. Sunday I tried to eat regularly and drink water. Sunday was the first time I woke up from a big nap and felt refreshed.

Sunday was when I could see the other side. It always comes, but I get lost in the pit each time.

I’m told the next leg of this tour will not be so hard on my body and mind. August 8 I start weekly treatments, and I pray so hard that it’s easier.

School starts in three weeks, and my doctoral class starts in four weeks. I need my “pep” (as Eddie and my mom call it) and my brain.

We have LOTS of fun planned for August: cottage weekend by the lake, Pearl Jam concert, pool party with friends–not to mention all the Back to School stuff I need to get started on.

Prayer requests: Low anxiety, and an easier time on the new chemo drug.

4/16 done (Leg one of three complete)

Looking Forward

As my mom and Charlie would say, “Mom’s pep is back.”

Round 3 was hell. Monday I totally hit rock bottom. It was the perfect storm of fatigue, not leaving the house for 4 days, not eating properly, and a big dose of depression. I sobbed in the shower.

Then Cortney sat by me, affirmed my feelings were valid and just, and then told me to get ready because we were going to a minor league ball game with friends.

The laughter and adult conversation and fresh air did it. My smile came back.

Along with my smile, my ability to look forward to things came back with a rush. I realized that I only have a month before students will be walking through my classroom door ready (or not) for their 8th grade year of school.

Between now and then I will have my last dense dose chemo treatment, and two of the Taxol chemo treatments. In fact, because school starts on a Wednesday, I will be having a chemo treatment rather than meeting my students. I will be leaving a video of myself for the sub to play. I hate it, but I’m hoping to teach my students flexibility from Day 1.

This is the first summer I have not done an full inventory on my classroom library. I just haven’t been able to get into my classroom due to my health. I did go through my Book Check Outs and mark what was not returned and added those back to my classroom library wish list on Amazon. I also added some new titles that are either soon-to-be published or popped up on my radar as excellent.

When I don’t have chemo brain, I’ve also been reading a lot to try to make my own teaching better. Some of my main goals this school year are: better student engagement, more student-teacher conferencing, and more student-to-student talk. A classroom library goal is to make book check out smoother/student led, make my library even more inviting, and offer more options (audio books, magazines, etc.). I created a separate teacher wish list on Amazon for those things along with some other school supplies that we tend to go through super quickly.

I’ve saved up and ordered my favorite lesson plan book (it should be here on Monday!), and have already started planning the first few days in a notebook. I getting super excited about a new crew of 8th graders, trying new routines and strategies, and just being back to work.

So many people have asked how they can help me through my journey and I honestly don’t know other than prayers and positive thoughts. So rather than me, you could bless my students if you want to check out my wish lists. I will be out every Wednesday for treatment through October, so they will be affected by all this too. I’m looking at it as a lesson in empathy and flexibility for them this year. It can be a super positive experience for them if I can manage to put that spin on it.

Thank you all for having hope and strength and faith when I hit the pit. Thank you for always supporting my family, and the extension of that, my students. Because to me, they become little families each school year.

Chemo Round 3

I have been sort of waiting to feel better before I write about it this time, but the truth is that it’s getting harder.

After the first round, when I realized that I wouldn’t be barfing my face off or have horrid bone pain, there was a moment of relief. But as it came time to do it again, dread set in anyway.

This third time has been the worst so far.

I have some major chemotherapy depression.  (Don’t worry, I have an appointment this week with my therapist and an appointment with a specialized oncology therapist coming soon too)

As my chemotherapy approaches, I get a horrible sense of dread. I cry. I get tired. I don’t want to put myself in that chair of poison.

This time as I sat there, I wanted to barf or sleep. It made me nauseated to think about this shit being pumped into my veins.

I hate my bald head.

Thursday I barely made it until the boys were picked up before falling asleep. I used to love naps. Now I lose DAYS to naps and don’t feel better after.

Friday didn’t exist because I slept through it.

Saturday was more of the same, but more depression set in because it starts to feel like I will never feel better. Ever.

And I hate my bald head. I hate it.

I know that is shallow and it will grow back and it’s a sign of being a warrior or whatever, but I hate it. I want a ponytail. I want to be able to at least LOOK like nothing is wrong even though it is.

I’ve completely lost interest in fun because I just assume I won’t have any. I’ll be thinking about my stupid head. I’ll be worrying that I am tired or nauseated. I’ll be thinking about getting enough rest to deal with the children the next day.

Just typing that makes me cry.

I’m just so tired all the time. Part of it is chemo, part of it is depression.

I only have one of the dose dense chemo rounds left. The next drug they give me (up to 12 rounds) is not supposed to be this difficult, but it’s hard for me to believe that. It’s hard for me to believe I will want to go back to work because right now it feels like there would be no way. I feel unable to do my life at all.

And I hate it.

My positive attitude is waning.

3/16 done.

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